The kitchen is as brightly lit as a hospital and just as sanitized. Bacon sits on a plate in the middle of the small dining room, dripping in oil and heart attacks.
My stepmother’s plump frame lowers into the chair directly across from my father. She stabs three pieces of toast and slathers them in more heart attacks while motioning to a third chair between the two of them.
I sit in it, pulling my paralyzed leg beneath the table and hooking the cane to the back of my chair. Scowling at the selection, I keep my eyes down to avoid looking at the fourth chair across from me– the one that will remain empty.
“Eat something, Ethan.” my stepmother says, her voice an octave above its usual pitch. “A growing boy needs his food.”
Your stepmother’s right,” my father says between mouthfuls of cholesterol. Even behind the open newspaper I can see how round he’s become since marrying Beth.
I force myself to take a piece of burnt toast. Using the table as leverage, I fold it in half and eat the middle section, leaving the crust which sustained the worst of the fire damage. The dry floury mush crawls down my throat, settling heavily into my stomach.
Out of the corner of my eye I see Beth exchanging glances with my father while “subtly” nodding in my direction. He shrugs, just as afraid as her to actually say anything.
To think he’s supposedly been raising me for the past seventeen years.
Ignoring his incompetence, I gulp down another slice of charcoal before excusing myself to my bedroom (which of course means another slow trip up the stairs).
The rest of the morning and a good chunk of the afternoon withers away at my desk. My hand hardly leaves the keyboard.
At four in the afternoon I was waiting by the front door, fully dressed with Sylvia’s Bible tucked beneath my arm. The worn leather cover is soft where she had held it. It resonates with her warmth.
My parents were late as always, waddling about like penguins. My father who used to yell at my twin and I about the importance of punctuality was now the worst offender of us all.
“All” not including my stepmother, of course. She’s not really a part of this family– anybody will tell you that. She’s merely the loose dirt my father’s using to fill the hole in his heart (or gut, as some may argue).
We pile into the car, with my stepmother at the wheel, my father in the passenger seat, and me strapped into the middle seat in the back, safely away from either sides. My cane stands propped against my father’s seat, a silent reminder that life will never be the same again.
Sylvia’s Bible sits next to me, comfortable on the new vinyl. The frayed pages flutter lightly in the breeze from the air conditioner.
We arrive at the hospital a dozen or so minutes later, pulling into the patient parking lot behind a grey Honda. My father flinches at the sight of it, covering his face with his hand until my stepmother reassures him of the car’s disappearance.
I have to admit, I looked away too, especially after noting that the driver was a middle-aged blonde woman– just like Mom.